The Black Box
Inside the Black Box he waits, his teeth as sharp as razors. He knows he has not been here long but the exact length of time he cannot recall. Time is a desperate occupation and the Black Box a lonesome universe devoid of even the dimmest starlight. He is hungry. He is afraid.
When he sees the first glimmer of light appear along a crack in the sky, he reaches out for it. He knows that light always comes with heat, but still he is shocked when he gets burned. As the sensation slowly fades, taking the pain away like sand slowly washing away from the shore, he wonders how he knows about light and about heat and why this knowledge did not make him more cautious.
But deep inside his tortured heart he knows the reason all too well. He knows it is the light he is hungry for. He yearns to feel it on his alabaster skin, warming the ice cold blood that flows through his veins. He dreams of dancing in a meadow filled with golden sunlight. His sleep is peaceful and soothing only when his dream-self frolics there. But even when he finds escape in these wishful dreams, he always awakens to the same nightmare that is his reality.
The dark. The cold. The solitude never-ending.
The Black Box feeds on him. He has no way to prove this, but he knows it is true. He can feel his life-force draining from him into Its murky gloom. But It does not take without payment. The Black Box returns pain, anguish and remorse. It poisons his rotted soul. But more than this, the Black Box thrives on the poisoning more than the taking. This is the way of the Black Box.
He tries hopelessly to remember the time before the Black Box. Wasn't he just a boy? A small child clinging to the coattails of his mother? Did he not play with the neighborhood children and run through the fields with his dog nipping at his heels? He prays for these memories to return, but all he can find in the deepest corners of his mind are the dark reflections of the tearing and the ripping and the iron taste of her blood.
He knows she has forgiven him as he will never forgive himself. He knows the hatred he feels for the Black Box is really nothing more than the reflection of the vile disgust he feels for himself. He knows he deserves the Black Box and indeed deserves much worse, but this knowledge does nothing to ease his pain. He takes comfort from this smallest grace, and the comfort again brings fitful sleep.
The dream. The Sun. The quickly dying hope.
He awakens again to a new rip slowly spreading across the black sky. He prepares himself for the burning light, but this time the pain does not come. This time the other side of the sky is dark, soothing and cold. It welcomes him. At long last he can escape the Black Box. He has hope. He can feed.
He leaves the black box behind and begins his journey. In an instant, the agony and torment of the eternal past is forgotten. He is free! He is alive! The suffering and tribulations, even the remorse he has felt, are distant specters drifting softly away across the gloomy terrain. He wishes to dawdle, enjoying this wonderful sensation of release. But his hunger is great. His thirst overwhelming. He must find sustenance. He must find it now.
He creeps among the shadows, seeking the darkest places in a dark world, hiding and watching, waiting for his prey. When she appears in the dim light of an upstairs window, he realizes he has been lingering there, aware of her demure presence only subconsciously. He can smell her on the breeze, the crimson flow so shallow within her flesh. Waiting for his teeth. Waiting for his thirst. She turns off the light to welcome him in. He steps toward the house, ready to bring her to her destiny.
The tearing. The ripping. The fresh taste of blood.
When he enters her chamber, she turns but does not cry out in alarm. Indeed her startled look quickly fades into a gentle smile. She holds out her hands to him as if to beckon, then spreads her arms in an offer of warm embrace. She has been anticipating his arrival, preparing for this night. Her joy fills him with desire. He is ready to take her.
When it is done, he remembers only he tearing and the ripping and the iron taste of her blood. This is his joy in life. This is the cold fire that burns in him. This is his salvation. He feels no remorse for his actions as this is his place in life as surely as it was hers. No guilt. No regret. He feeds as do we all. He survives as we all must. She dies as is the way of her kind. But he knows it is right.
His hunger abated, he seeks shelter to rest and finds she has supplied a nest for him. A dark corner of her room has been readied with a soft bed of animal furs and more beastly hides as a blanket. He covers himself and begins to drift off to sleep, safe in this new world where he has finally found peace. The smell of her ruined flesh still in the air. Expecting the dream to come, he totters on the edge of slumber. Drifting.
But in his sleep he only dreams of the Black Box. It reaches out for him, grabs him. He cannot escape. It pulls him in as he fights for his freedom. Sucking at his marrow. The Black Box becomes his soul, devours his flesh, steals his memories and thoughts, leaving nothing of what he once was. Taking and taking and taking and... then he is awake!
They have come and found her corpse and they intend to make him pay. Desperately he rises from his modest refuge, leaps for the window and out onto the lawn. Did he ask for too much? Was he greedy to crave the freedom he enjoyed for only the briefest time? He knows he is innocent but also that they are blind. And as quickly as that, his hope begins to fade.
Now it is the chase. The retribution. The inevitable return.
He runs and runs, faster and harder and driven by fear. He knows their intentions if they catch him, but he has nowhere to go. The light is returning to this world and the heat feels like fire on his skin. No place to go. No field of golden sunlight. No place except home. And just like that he finds himself beside the black box. It is at his feet. He looks down at its dark facade. He does not have to look back to know they are already here.
He feels the anguished pain of his countless victims as he unwillingly reaches out to the black box. The irony does not escape him as he realizes he is reaching out to it as she had reached out to him. For the first time he considers this may not have been the fate she wanted.
He vows to himself, as he has so many times before, that next time he will not take her. He will control himself. Restrain himself. He will give her what he knows she truly hungers for. Just as he does now. Though he still reaches for the black box. And the Black Box opens for him.
The Black Box would pull him in but it does not need to as he gratefully climbs inside, an infant returning to the womb. His joyous relief at finding safety and returning home fills the Black Box with desire. The Black Box closes as they approach and the sky turns black. The heat fades as the cold of the Black Box wraps him in its gentle embrace.
The crack in the sky appears again, but he does not reach for it. He still remembers so soon after returning that the light will burn him. He knows they are trying to get in. But the Black Box will protect him.He is safe. Maybe he should try to reach for the light?
There is the cold. The dark. The fading comfort of home.
Already the taking has begun again.
The dark embrace welcomes
As sunlight fades away.
Safe within his prison,
The creature rots away.
He feeds the cold, the darkness,
The fading warmth of light.
Destined for tomorrow,
Eternal as the night.
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Alexandra Day is a children's book author and illustrator famous for sharing the adventure of a rambunctious rottweiler named Carl among other classic stories.
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